234. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • US
    • President Lyndon B. Johnson
  • USSR
    • Alexei Kosygin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers

Following an exchange of pleasantries between the President and Chairman Kosygin, a brief description of each other’s workday and the President’s thanks to the Chairman on behalf of himself and Mrs. Johnson for the presents given him at the previous meeting, the President inquired how Mr. Kosygin had enjoyed his visit to Niagara Falls.2 Mr. Kosygin said that he had enjoyed it very much indeed, particularly his inspection of the power station, which was of great interest to him from an engineering point of view. He said that the Soviet Union today had the largest power station in the world and that next year an even larger hydro-electric power station would be started up. Thus when he said he liked the power station at Niagara he was speaking as an expert. President Johnson briefly mentioned the six small water projects on his native river in Texas and to Mr. Kosygin’s question as to whether irrigation was used in that part of the country he replied that it was and also, in connection with the meal served at the luncheon, mentioned that he raised sheep.

President Johnson told the Chairman that he had made an excellent impression on the American people, that everyone here was hopeful that peaceful relations with the Soviet Union could be maintained and extended and that the leaders of the two countries would find ways and means to bring this about. He said that the press reaction to Chairman Kosygin’s visit here was very favorable and that, in spite of some such feelings in the past as had been stimulated by the Dies Committee, on the whole, the great wish of the people of this country was that Americans and Russians would find a way to like each other rather [Page 539]than hate each other and to this end the Chairman’s visit had contributed significantly.

Chairman Kosygin replied that while it was true that the people here seemed to be very friendly and pleasant, he was somewhat perplexed by some excerpts from the President’s address in Los Angeles which had been shown to him to the effect that while a socialist and a capitalist system existed in this world, tensions would remain.3

The President replied that he must have been misquoted or else quoted completely out of context, since in his speech he had spoken of a new spirit of friendship between the two countries and of his earnest hope that mutually acceptable solutions to outstanding problems would be found. He had said in that speech that one meeting does not in itself resolve all problems, that their solution required extended talks and negotiations and that that was what he was now trying to accomplish.

Mr. Kosygin volunteered the information that he was leaving at noon on Monday, June 26, 1967, and in reply to the President’s question said that he did not presently intend to stop anywhere else other than Cuba, where he hoped to spend no more than two days. He was anxious to return to Moscow since he had to present a three-year budget plan; this was not an easy job because of the conflicting demands for resources made by various agencies and organizations of the Soviet Union for construction and development purposes. He said that he was under great pressure to devote more of the resources of his country to these peaceful pursuits, that many people came to him with requests for more money and that he was hard put to explain why not all these requests could be granted. He had the feeling that even after his explanations these people went away believing that they had not been properly understood.

In this connection the President expressed the hope that the two countries would be able to reduce their military budgets in order to devote more of their resources to peaceful pursuits. He pointed out that during the three years he had been President his Administration had tripled expenditures for education from $4 billion annually to $12 billion, that it had also tripled expenditures for health in the same amount, that is, from $4 billion to $12 billion annually and that this total increase in expenditures from $8 billion for health and education when he first became President to $24 billion now indicated the direction in which he wanted this country to develop. It is for this reason that he was most anxious to have a chance to explore all possibilities [Page 540]for cutting down the military budget if the Soviet Union could be persuaded to do the same. We were ready to discuss all aspects of this question, we had asked for such talks three months ago through Ambassador Thompson and yet nothing further had been heard since the Soviet Government had indicated that it was willing to discuss these matters. When and where could Secretary McNamara meet with representatives of the Soviet Union to begin meaningful discussions?

Mr. Kosygin said that he and his Government were indeed interested in finding some means of reducing military expenditures, but that this very much depended upon relations with the United States. How could the US reduce its military expenditures while it was spending upwards of $20 billion on the Viet-Nam war alone? It seemed to him that while this war continued a discussion of budget reduction could not be more than academic.

With reference to Viet-Nam, the President pointed out that military expenditure reduction could be achieved if the Soviet Union reduced or eliminated its supply of military equipment to North Viet-Nam while we found a way to de-escalate the struggle in South Viet-Nam.

He said that at the very least an increase in the military budgets could be prevented if agreement was reached with the Soviet Union on the ABM problem. He had held back on authorizing full development of ABM systems in order to provide the opportunity for full exploration of this question with the Soviet Union. President Johnson repeated: when and where could Secretary McNamara meet with Soviet representatives?

Mr. Kosygin said that our proposals appeared to extend to a discussion of defensive systems only and that he could not agree with such an approach. President Johnson retorted that, as he had stressed during their previous talk, we definitely meant exploring all possibilities of reducing expenditures for offensive as well as defensive systems.

Mr. Kosygin said that if the President really wanted to discuss disarmament measures he was prepared to come here from Moscow with a delegation of his experts for that purpose. But he still failed to see true possibilities while the Viet-Nam war continues and while the Middle East situation remains unsettled. He turned to a repetition of his position regarding the Middle East. He pointed out that on the one hand there were 100 million Arabs who were really people of the 19th century as far as their spiritual development was concerned, and on the other hand here were 3 million Jews who were 20th century people, had attacked the Arabs and seized large tracts of Arab territory. There could be no peaceful settlement in the Middle East unless these forces were withdrawn.

[Page 541]

The President replied that one could not regard this question as merely a matter of numbers of people involved, it was also a question of what was right. The President had been careful to note in Mr. Kosygin’s speech before the UNGA that he had acknowledged Israel’s right to a national life.4 He asked the Chairman whether he had read the President’s speech on the Middle East situation which had been delivered before the Chairman’s address.5 Following Mr. Kosygin’s reply to the effect that he had watched the President’s speech on television and had had it translated for him, the President asked Mr. Kosygin point by point whether he did not agree with the proposals the President had made in that speech. One such proposal pertains to the recognition of Israel’s right to a national existence. A second proposal pertains to the right of free passage through international waterways such as the Strait of Tiran and the Suez Canal; since the Soviet Union was also a maritime power, surely the Chairman too was for such right of free passage. He certainly thought the Chairman would agree that something had to be done for the refugees of this and the previous wars.

Mr. Kosygin said that in his view, following troop withdrawal to the original armistice line, all other questions could be solved. He pointed out that surely if the United States had been invaded the President would not agree to any discussion of settlement as long as parts of the United States were under foreign control. For his part he could definitely state that the Soviet Union under such hypothetical circumstances certainly could not agree to hold discussions while parts of its territory were occupied by an aggressor. He related this position to the previous discussion of reduction of the military budget and said that, after all, it was not the Soviet Union which had gone to war but rather the United States in Viet-Nam.

The President pointed out that we had not gone to war over Cuba although the Soviet Union had placed offensive missiles on that island. To this the Chairman replied that the Soviet Union had not gone to war either, that it had withdrawn its missiles from Cuba. In fact he said that we had been instrumental in pressuring Khrushchev to withdraw the missiles and surely the President knew that there were no missiles on Cuba today.

Mr. Kosygin said that Nasser presently was in a very difficult position, that what was needed was an effort to find a way out for Nasser, that the question of closing the Straits could be solved if troops were [Page 542]withdrawn to start with. A way to accomplish this would be to state that following troop withdrawal all other questions would be considered.

President Johnson did not think that it was possible now to just remove the troops without at the same time removing the dangers which had caused the conflict in the first place. We had to find a way to get the two sides to talk to and listen to each other. We did not say that all of our friends were perfect and he was sure the Chairman would not make such statements about his friends either. The President knew that it had not been the Soviet Union’s advice that caused Nasser to close the Gulf of Aqaba, and that evidently the Soviet Union’s advice to Nasser had not been heeded. This same situation pertained to some of our friends too. This was a case where neither our friends nor the Chairman’s friends took our respective advice. He was sure that the Chairman did not think the US had encouraged Israel to send its Air Force into action. He considered the Chairman to be far too intelligent to think that.

President Johnson repeated that it was not enough to say: “remove the troops,” that along with troop removal the dangers facing Israel would have to be removed as well. The President pointed out that short of some such arrangement the Israelis would certainly not follow our advice. They had not followed our advice with respect to refraining from sending their Air Force into action just as Nasser had not followed the Soviet Union’s advice which the President was confident must have been to refrain from closing the Gulf of Aqaba. Alarming reports of new arms shipments being carried by hundreds of planes and ships to the Arab countries since the ceasefire, and continuing danger of renewed hostilities had already resulted in our being asked to supply new weapons. So far we had refused in the hope of getting the Soviet Union’s agreement to full disclosure of arms shipments, in spite of various pressures upon us. Therefore, the solution of the Middle East difficulties had to be found in something that would be acceptable to both sides. How else could we make our friends listen?

Mr. Kosygin stated emphatically that he was certain war would break out again unless the Israeli troops were withdrawn quickly. Therefore, he suggested that the UN Security Council pass a resolution forcing Israel to withdraw and include a provision for negotiations to begin following withdrawal. He was convinced that this was the only way to prevent a new war in that area. He pointed to the experience in Algiers where the Arabs had fought for seven years until France finally decided to withdraw. He was sure the President knew that the Straits would have been opened had hostilities not been initiated by Israel.

To this the President replied that both countries should have taken immediate steps to open the Straits after Nasser had closed them.

Mr. Kosygin said there was little point now in a historical review [Page 543]of that situation. The problem was here and now and the only solution was troop withdrawal.

President Johnson repeated again that such a resolution would not be heeded by Israel. Before the outbreak of hostilities he had talked for one hour with Israel’s Foreign Minister Eban and thought after that talk that Israel would await the Security Council’s action before doing anything drastic. However, after all Nasser had seized the Straits, he had closed the Gulf, he had threatened to liquidate Israel and had concluded a military agreement for that purpose with Syria. This must have scared the Israelis to death, prompting them to send their armed forces into action. Neither one of us had been able to prevail upon our friends, and the President knew today that the resolution proposed by the Chairman would not be followed. Apparently Foreign Minister Eban had met with disagreement within his own government, which was split almost evenly on the issue of what effective steps to take. For this reason what was needed now was not a determination of what was right depending upon the numbers of people involved on each side but rather by what could be done to remove the fears along with removing the troops. He was certain that the five points he had proposed would accomplish exactly that.

At this point the President and Chairman Kosygin left the luncheon table for their private meeting.

Also present at the luncheon were:

US PARTICIPANTS

  • Secretary Dean Rusk
  • Secretary Robert McNamara
  • Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson
  • Governor Averell Harriman
  • Mr. Walt Rostow, Special Assistant to the President
  • Mr. Marvin Watson, Special Assistant to the President
  • Mr. McGeorge Bundy, Executive Secretary of the NSC Middle East Special Committee
  • Mr. George Christian, Press Secretary to the President
  • Mr. Alexander Akalovsky, First Secretary, American Embassy, Moscow
  • Mr. William D. Krimer, Interpreter, Department of State

USSR PARTICIPANTS

  • Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko
  • Ambassador ANATOLIY DOBRYNIN
  • Mr. Yuriy Firsov, Assistant to the Chairman
  • Mr. Boris Batsanov, Assistant to the Chairman
  • General Vladimir Volkov, KGB
  • Mr. L. Zamiatin, Chief of Press Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Mr. T. Zemskov, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Mr. Yuly Vorontsov, Counselor of USSR Embassy, Washington
  • Mr. Victor Sukhodrev, Counselor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Addendum, USSR, Glassboro Memcons. Top Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Krimer. The meeting took place during a luncheon, the time of which is from the President’s Daily Diary. (Ibid.) The memorandum cites the time as 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. A list of those present is at the end of the memorandum.
  2. Chairman Kosygin, his daughter, and about 50 other Soviets visited Niagara Falls on June 24, traveling there in a Presidential aircraft. Chief of Protocol James W. Symington, who accompanied Kosygin, reported on the visit in a June 27 memorandum to President Johnson. (Ibid., Memos to the President—Walt Rostow, Vol. 32)
  3. For text of the President’s remarks at the President’s Club dinner on the evening of June 23, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book I, pp. 645–650.
  4. For text of the June 19 speech, see The New York Times, pp. 16–17.
  5. For text of the President’s address at the State Department’s Foreign Policy Conference for Educators on June 19, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967, Book I, pp. 630–635.